Keynote at “The sensorimotor foundations of social cognition”

I have been invited as a keynote speaker to an autumn school on “The sensorimotor foundations of social cognition” organized by the Horizon 2020 project Socializing sensorimotor contingencies (socSMCs).

The event will take place in Boltenhagen by the Baltic Sea, Germany, October 11-17, 2015. My title and abstract are as follows:

Enactive and phenomenological approaches to social cognition

Tom Froese

One of the most central and also controversial claims of the enactive approach is that embodied social interaction is constitutive of social cognition. Evolutionary robotics modeling and dynamical systems theory demonstrate that at least in principle there is nothing mysterious about this claim. But can it also be verified experimentally? The most promising results so far are based on the “perceptual crossing” paradigm, in which pairs of participants interact haptically in real-time via a minimalist human-computer interface. They try to locate each other in the virtual space while avoiding distractor objects. It has repeatedly been shown that individuals’ actions become interactively self-organized in a way that collectively enhances task success. However, until recently there was no evidence that this sensorimotor self-organization was also experienced from the point of view of the participants, thereby calling into question whether it constitutively affected their social cognition. I will present the latest studies in which an accompanying phenomenology of intersubjectivity was clearly reported and quantified, thereby enabling us to identify the specific pattern of sensorimotor coupling underlying the emergence of a consciously shared moment of experience. This is some of the first evidence supporting the concept of a genuine and irreducible second-person perspective that is mutually enacted via joint actions. Intriguingly, the process of its emergence shares similarities with the first stages that are hypothesized to occur during the development of social awareness in pre-verbal infants.

Keynote on identity, alterity and language

socioligia2The Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana in Mexico City is holding an international meeting on the topic “La otredad en sociedades transculturales: Identidad, Alteridad y Languaje“, September 23-25, 2015.

I have been invited as a keynote speaker to present my recent research. The title of my talk is “La ciencia cognitiva de la identidad y alteridad: Teorías, Modelos y Experimentos”.

3er Coloquio Internacional de Ciencias Cognitivas


At the end of the month the “3er Coloquio Internacional de Ciencias Cognitivas” will be held in Durango, Mexico, August 26-28. I have been invited as a speaker. My title and abstract are as follows:

When ‘you’ and ‘I’ transform ourselves into ‘we’ – and back again

Tom Froese

There are a growing number of cognitive scientists trying to overcome orthodox methodological individualism. In contrast to standard Theory of Mind accounts, they argue that social understanding primarily consists of a direct perceptual experience of each other, whereby this genuinely second-person perspective is co-constituted by the skillful coordination of bodily interaction. We studied this possibility by means of the perceptual crossing paradigm, in which the embodied interaction of pairs of adults is mediated by a minimalist virtual reality interface. As hypothesized, there was a positive correlation between objective measures of coordination and subjective reports of clearer awareness of the other’s presence. In addition, there was a tendency for coordinating participants to independently report within seconds of each other that they had noticed the other, suggesting that there was a mutual recognition of one genuinely shared experience. We also performed a qualitative study of free-text descriptions of the experience during the moment of recognition, as well as a diachronic analysis of the results. Since participants had to implicitly relearn the bodily skill of how to perceive each other’s presence, we hypothesized that there would be a recapitulation of the initial developmental stages of infancy, starting with more dyadic forms of social awareness, which develop into a more differentiated self-other awareness. Our preliminary results indicate that such a recapitulation occurred in some cases.

Open-ended evolution workshop

To start off this year’s ECAL in York, I participated in the workshop on Open Ended Evolution: Recent Progress and Future Milestones. The tile and abstract of my mini presentation are as follows:

Groundlessness avoids openness reduction in hierarchies of emergence

Tom Froese

One way of measuring open-endedness is in terms of the maintenance or increase of degrees of freedom. If emergence is defined as the collective dynamics resulting from nonlinear coupling between two or more components, then the degrees of freedom of the emergent phenomenon cannot in principle be greater than the sum of degrees of freedom of its underlying components. In practice, it tends to be less than that sum because the collective dynamics are subject to more constraints than the isolated dynamics of each component. The same logic applies to the creation of novelty at each emergent level of organization, thereby rapidly choking off possibilities for open-ended emergence of new layers of complexity. This is not a problem in practice if we consider nature to have sufficient degrees of complexity to begin with (although this is a problem for simulations). I propose that this is not even a problem in principle if we consider nature to be groundless (although this excludes simulations by definition).

The workshop will continue with a follow-up session on Friday.

Artificial Life XV in 2016, Cancun, Mexico

Next year’s International Conference on the Synthesis and Simulation of Living Systems (Artificial Life XV) will take place in beautiful Cancun, Mexico, July 4-8, 2016. I am part of the local organizing team, helping to make the first Alife conference in Latin America a memorable event.


For more information see the conference website:

European Conference on Artificial Life 2015

Next week the European Conference on Artificial Life 2015 will take place in York, England, July 20-24. I will be giving a poster presentation on the following topic:

Toward a behavior-based approach to the origins of life and the genetic system

Tom Froese

In the origin of life community there has been a dispute about whether metabolism or replication came first. Yet both of these approaches are in implicit agreement that the first forms of life were basically passive. That shared assumption has begun to be challenged by a new generation of metabolism-first approaches, emphasizing that movement and adaptive behavior could have played an important role right from the start. After introducing recent research on this behavior-based approach to the origin of life, I offer a preliminary assessment of what this new approach implies for the origins of the genetic system.

Click on the title to download the extended abstract.

Research visit to Chile

Next week I will be in Chile for the first time. On Monday, July 6, I will give a seminar at the Instituto de Filosofia y Ciencias de la Complejidad (IFICC). The details can be seen on the flyer below:


Then on Friday I will give a mini-seminar on “The key concepts of the enactive revolution”, which will take place at the Department of Philosophy, Universidad Alberto Hurtado, Santiago, Chile.
Time: Friday 10 July, 12:00 – 14:00 hrs.
Participants: Tom Froese (key note speaker), Glenda Satne (Universidad Alberto Hurtado, Chile), and Mario Villalobos (Universidad de Tarapacá, Chile).

Emergence in Chemical Systems

On June 23-26 the University of Alaska, Anchorage, will host the international conference Emergence in Chemical Systems 4.0. I was invited to give a talk. My title and abstract are as follows:

Motility at the origin of life and the evolution of the genome

Tom Froese

Traditionally, there has been a dispute about whether metabolism or replication came first during the origin of life. Yet both of these approaches are in implicit agreement that the first forms of life were basically passive. That shared assumption has begun to be challenged by a new generation of metabolism-first approaches, emphasizing that movement and adaptive behavior could have played an important role right from the start (1-3). I introduce this theory of a behavior-based origin of life and consider how it can help to inform our thinking about the origins of the genetic system.

Read the rest of this entry »

Talk at event on Mazatec culture

Carte - Final, Jornada MazatecaOn the 5th of June there will be an event on “Mazatec culture, shamanism and sacred plants” at the Autonomous University of the State of Morelos, Mexico.

I have been invited as one of the speakers and my presentation will be about the latest research on the psychological effects of the use of sacred mushrooms.

The title is: “Nuevos estudios sobre los efectos psicológicos de los hongos sagrados: Neurociencia y modelación”.

I propose that we can better understand the latest neuroscientific results about altered brain function, especially related to increased levels of entropy, from the perspective of complex systems theory.

Commentary on The Cognitive-Emotional Brain

Pessoa2013One of the next issues of Behavioral and Brain Sciences will include a discussion of Pessoa’s (2013) book The Cognitive-Emotional Brain: From Interactions to Integration by MIT Press. I wrote the following short piece as part of the peer commentary that will be published with Pessoa’s précis.

Enactive neuroscience, the direct perception hypothesis, and the socially extended mind

Tom Froese

Pessoa’s The Cognitive-Emotional Brain (2013) is an integrative approach to neuroscience that complements other developments in cognitive science, especially enactivism. Both accept complexity as essential to mind; both tightly integrate perception, cognition, and emotion, which enactivism unifies in its foundational concept of sense-making; and both emphasize that the spatial extension of mental processes is not reducible to specific brain regions and neuroanatomical connectivity. An enactive neuroscience is emerging.

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